This one would have to be one of the highlights of making the trek to Baltimore. The SBLAAR – Society of Beer Lovers & Assorted Academic Research – is having an informal reception today (Saturday) at Christ Lutheran Church from 7pm–10pm. The address is 701 S. Charles Street and is free (sponsored for Fortress Press). Afterwards, the happy punters retire to Max’s Taphouse to sample each of the 150 draught beers on offer. More information here.

I can humbly say that I have done the requisite exegetical work on such matters, in ‘He/brew(‘)s Beer, or, H(om)ebrew‘ from 2006. Indeed, as I argue in The Sacred Economy, the desire for beer lies at the origins of human society.

Begin with purple flesh from the hump of a camel (tuo geng) and stew. Meanwhile, take the milk from a mare, agitate it until it ferments and turns into yoghurt (tong jiu). Eat the stewed camel hump, while drinking the fermented mare’s yoghurt, and then wash it down with some camel broth.

Here they are, the final paper proposals for the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar. This crazily stimulating event will happen in about five weeks time, this time at a pub in Sydney.

Date: 6-7 September 2013

Venue: Edens Room, Trinity Bar, Surry Hills, Sydney.

More details on the seminar and accommodation here.

Roland Boer

The Power of Chusing Moral Good or Evil: Hugo Grotius and the Fall

Can the tree in the Garden of Eden be a good thing, as a symbol of the arts of ‘primitive man’? Indeed, can the curse of labouring in the ‘sweat of one’s brow’ become the blessed origins of property and commerce? Is the effect of the Fall erased by the Holy Spirit so we become free willing individuals? These and other intriguing moves are made by Hugo Grotius, one of the earliest ideologues of what would become classical economic theory. In this paper I explore that Grotius rewrites the story of the Fall so as to produce possibly the first version of the ‘most important story ever told’ concerning capitalism. It is a myth that John Locke and Adam Smith would rework in their own ways, but Grotius was one of the first to so do. I trace Grotius’s retelling, with particular attention to his engagements with the biblical texts, engagements in which he reads the Fall as both fortuitous and displaced.

Emily Colgan

‘Prepare War Against Her’: The Land as Wounded City in Jer 6:1-8

With an emphasis on the ecological principles of suspicion and retrieval, this paper examines Jer 6:1-8 from the perspective of the Land as city. I suggest that underlying this poem is a rhetoric of sexual abuse and that these verses should be read as a description of the Land’s rape. My analysis begins by establishing the subject of the poem as Zion – a Land place – imagined as a woman. A re-reading of v 2 makes it clear that it is YHWH’s desire to inflict punishment upon this figure. I then explore the multiple sexual innuendos used to describe the attack on the Land. From here I examine the way in which gender operates within these verses to constitute dynamics of power. Within this context violence is conceived as an acceptable means to exert control over this possession. By virtue of their affiliation with the divine, human superiority over Land is promoted as a moral right and the mode of this relationship is one of combative interaction. Finally, I suggest that the Land’s resistance to such sexual aggression can be found in v 4b.

Sean Durbin

Anxieties of Influence: Liberal ‘New Perspective’ Scholars, Conservative Christian Zionists, and Theological Discourse on Israel as Identity Construction and Maintenance.

This paper discusses the reevaluation of the apostle Paul and his relationship to “Judaism” and “Israel” that is emerging from two distinct social locations. First, we consider the scholarly debate over what is generally referred to as the “New Perspective” on Paul, and the reevaluation of scholarly and theological assumptions about Paul, his ethnicity, his religious identity, and his visions for salvation, the Jews, and the end of time. Second, we consider discourse on Israel through Paul that is emerging, not from Pauline scholars, but from a subset of contemporary Christian Zionists—who maintain that the reestablishment of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, signaling the imminent return of Christ. We find that both of these disparate groups have come to surprisingly similar conclusions concerning what Paul might have “really said.”

In comparing these two groups, and their attempts to redeem Paul of the legacy of anti-Semitism to which he has often been attached, we consider the work that each does in each context, particularly as it relates to the construction of a particular liberal scholarly identity on the one hand, and an “authentic” Christian identity on the other. The paper concludes by considering the implications that both groups’ discourses have on “Judaism,” specifically their role in reproducing notions of an unchanging, normative Judaism.

Yael Klangwisan

The Road to Awe: Rosenzweig’s Song of Songs

This paper explores truth and the Song of Songs as Aletheia beginning with Rosenzweig’s meditation on the Song of Songs in Star of Redemption, “… in the mirror of this appearance, truth reflects itself.” In this meditation, Rosenzweig’s engagement with Heidegger and his notion of aletheia as double concealment can be recognized. This discourse regarding Aletheia and poetry is repeated in Derrida’s exploration of the truth of the poetry of Paul Celan. In this paper I bring together these two discourses, highlighting Rosenzweig’s contribution with respect to the Song of Songs.

Debra MacDonald

The Symbolism of Evil and the Demons of Luke: Paul Ricoeur and René Girard

Frenchmen Ricoeur and Girard have seldom been seriously read together despite their remarkably close vocabulary and thinking around the fundamentals of the human ‘being’.  Finding their work to be similar and critical of conventional biblical tradition regarding evil, I have begun reading them next to the demon narratives in the gospel of Luke. A meeting of their work allows a drawing out of an understanding of the devil and demon entity which functions as a predominant character in the Lucan text.

‘Mimesis’, the concept of representation and imitation brings the work of Ricoeur and Girard into an intertextual relationship allowing their similarities and differences to be compared. These can then be used to read the figure of the devil/demon in Luke in relation to the human, and the human in relation to one another. The central question of this paper is one regarding the symbol of evil in the Lucan narrative, and how Ricoeur and Girard contribute to it.

Niall McKay

The Characteristics of Utopia and its Applicability for Interpreting the Gospel of Mark

In this paper I explore the narrative contours of ancient and modern Utopianism. I begin by attending to a number dynamic materialist characteristics of Utopian discourse. These include the dialectic relationship of myth and politics, the economic consequences of literary patterns and the interwoven nature of spatiality and temporality in Utopianism. Following Fredric Jameson I suggest that Utopian discourse is not simply a naïve presentation of an idealised future but rather a site of contention where Utopian ideals are often pressed to their dystopian extremes. In the second part of the paper I suggest that the Sabbath conflicts in the early chapters of the Gospel of Mark may be fruitfully regarded as part of a Utopian conflict. In ancient Hebrew traditions the Sabbath connotes both liberation and oppression. In Jesus’ conflicts over the Sabbath the internal dystopic potential of Sabbath Utopianism is highlighted.

Amir Mogadam

Re-reading Islamic historiography: Birth Narrative, Semiotics and Ideology

In the last decade of the twentieth century, Muhammad Arkun, an Algerian/French professor of Islamic Studies, applied the concept, “imaginary of Medina”, to address the public perception of the foundation stories about the early Muslim community under the rule of the messenger of god. With regard to Islamic traditions, Arkun believed in the need for critical enquiry on “un-thought matters”, including sacred texts. He was thinking that the issue in studying Islamic imaginary is that, while the critical approach is used in investigating biblical material, this kind of enquiry is suspended for Islamic literature, as if the two materials are something substantially different. A few years after his death, in the case of the Islamic imaginary, these ideas of Arkun regarding application of critical methods do not seem to have received much attention.

Following Arkun’s position, the current research applies the theory of ideology and semiotic analysis to one of the most important narratives in Islamic imaginary, the birth narrative provided by Tabari, the grand Muslim commentator of the Qur’an and an historiographer, in the 9th and 10th centuries of the Christian era. The research appraises the application of semiotic analysis, and particularly the method introduced by Barthes in S/Z, to the narration offered by Tabari.

While these methods have been applied to the biblical material in a variety of forms, the current project is one of the few in the fields of critical study directed towards Islamic sacred literature.

Robert Myles

The Antagonising Post-political Prospects of ‘Genderqueer’ Biblical Criticism

In her recent book, Beyond Feminist Biblical Studies (2012), Deryn Guest urges for a shift from the antagonising discourse of feminism to an inclusive genderqueer criticism that would incorporate not only traditional feminist concerns but also its tentative connections to masculinity studies, queer theory, and LGBT studies. In this paper I situate Guest’s proposal within the wider context of post-political discourse, that is, the consensus-driven politics of the post-Cold War era in which capitalism and liberal democracy is accepted as the only possible and/or desirable basis for society. While the impetus of Guest’s proposal is to facilitate a more robust discussion of gender identity and biblical interpretation, her study obscures the important role that social class has played within feminist discussions of patriarchy and its structural function underpinning capitalist exploitation.

Drawing on the critical theory of Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou, Wendy Brown, and bell hooks, I argue that what is required is not an inclusive and expanding hermeneutical toolbox to rescue the biblical text from its culturally-antiquated oppressors (both ancient and modern), but rather a return to a unified class struggle. The prospects for genderqueer criticism will be greatly enhanced if it can penetrate through notions of group identity, that are at present depoliticised from economic considerations, and instead focus on how gender, sexuality, and patriarchy emerge as structural, economic, and ideological formations that might be dealt with in terms of their relationship to class antagonism and the inner-workings of political economy.

Christina Petterson

Necrosomatics on the Gospel of John

This paper analyses the use of the term soma in the Temple scene in John 2. Jesus is in the temple, he has just driven out the sellers, and says: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up, to which the Jews respond, you want to rebuild this thing in 3 days, it took 46 years to build. And then, in the middle of this direct speech comes the narrator’s voice in 2:21, helpfully explaining, ‘But he was talking about the temple of his body’. This is the first of several instances where the narrator inserts an explanatory note, which explicitly interprets the ‘present’ event in light of the death and resurrection. Along with 7:39, this verse highlights the disjointed time of the gospel and blend together ‘before’ and ‘after’ to the extent that it is impossible to separate them. This also has repercussions for our understanding of soma. Since soma is generally used in John to denote corpses, we could consider translating it as ‘But he was talking about the temple of his corpse’. Given, however, that it is a post-resurrection statement, it is ambiguous, as is the English word body. The paper will address previous interpretations and discuss how this ambiguity is dealt with.

Holly Randell-Moon

The Secular Contract: The British Monarchy and White Diasporic Sovereignty

Using the work of Charles W. Mills, this paper critically interrogates how legal and political characterizations of the law as secular work to disavow the settler nation-state’s racialised foundations in colonial violence in the form of a “secular contract”. The secular constitution of nation-states such as Australia and New Zealand presents these nations as liberal and autonomous even as their formation through the imprimatur of the British Crown continues to involve symbolic rituals of exchange and deference to the British monarchy. The paper focuses on two state visits by Prince William to Australia and New Zealand in 2010 and 2011 as an example of what Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee describe as the maintenance of “white diasporic loyalty”. I conclude that secularism must be re-thought of as not simply the operation of law without religion, but also, as complicit with the ways indigenous sovereignties in (white) settler nation-states are negated.

Angeline M. G. Song

The Crucial Difference between Miriam of Exodus 2 and the character of Stephen in Tarantino’s Django Unchained

In Exod. 2:7, Moses’ sister Miriam uses the term עברי/ibri (Hebrew) to describe her own people when she addresses Pharaoh’s daughter, instead of “Israelite’’ or “sons/daughters of Israel’’. Scholars have established that the term, particularly as it is used in Exodus 1 and 2, implies an ideology of Difference and Otherness. It has racist overtones and is potentially degrading to those so (mis)addressed. In this postcolonial reading, I contend that Miriam employed it as part of colonial mimicry (à la Homi K. Bhabha) within an overall pragmatic strategy often pursued by members of the oppressed. She employs this tactic to save her infant brother, in contrast to Stephen, the black head servant in Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Stephen mimics his master’s every last word in a laughably excessive display of deference, for it is this strange ritual that helps him retain his unique position as favored Other. But his character soon takes a menacing turn when he emerges as one who derives tremendous pleasure from oppressing his own people in order to reinforce his privileged position. This interpretation is being issued from the vantage point of a flesh-and-blood postcolonized reader: I am a Malay-Chinese (Peranakan) female who grew up in a patriarchal, postcolonial country; my ancestors were, I suggest, excellent mimic (wo)men of their British colonial masters and today, my mother tongue– Baba Malay – is almost non-existent. I am currently living as a Minority Other in a predominantly Western, increasingly bi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand.

Robert Tilley

Apocalyptic Illiteracy and the Role of Liberal Abstraction in the Formation of Modern Biblical Criticism

In his book From Tradition to the Gospel (1919), Martin Dibelius, often held to be the father of New Testament Form Criticism, enunciated two fundamental assumptions to Gospel criticism: that the early Christians were apocalyptic in belief and thus eschatological in outlook; and that they were, by and large, illiterate. As a consequence, they had no interest or ability to write things down, but as the eschaton failed to arrive, the early company of believers moved from a more ‘charismatic’ faith to an institutional faith with its attendant hierarchy, formation of an exclusive priesthood, and rise of dogma. The problem is that there is no evidence of widespread illiteracy, nor is first century apocalyptic synonymous with eschatology. Furthermore, first century apocalyptic was characterised by an accent on written texts and a hierarchical communion marked by priesthood. How was it that such an unscholarly view came to be held as a truism? This paper explores the role of liberal bourgeoisie ideology in the formation of modern biblical criticism.

I’m heading south of the border shortly for a couple of talks.

1. Queer Readings of the Bible, at the Jewish Museum. All part of the Midsumma Festival.

I’m joining Rebecca Forgasz, director of the museum, for presentations and then a freewheeling discussion. Rebecca will situate such readings in the Jewish tradition, while I’ll say a few things about ambivalent texts (Song of Songs) and camp readings (Chronicles).

Apparently you need to pay for this one (book on the site), which feels a little weird. But it seems to have a reverse psychology, since the tickets are selling rather quickly.

2. Garage Blackboard Lecture. This one is on Marxism and religion (translatability etc.), at a regular event that would have to be one of the more interesting and fascinating things going on these days. As they put it:

Garage in Brunswick.
Some seats.
Hand-pumped Beer from a Keg.
Homemade soup and possibility of baked goods.
Two Speakers.
Getting the Picture?

Apparently I get a chance to talk for about 45 minutes (along with Lachlan Ross). By the time the beer has flowed freely, we’ll be pumped with all manner of questions (and soup). No cost here!

Can’t wait.

These days politicians are fond of giving baby bonuses to bolster numbers of a ‘desired’ ethnic group, especially in response to ‘foreigners’ arriving. The Persians had a far better approach to the baby bonus. Any woman who worked for the state were given an extra ration of beer or wine at the birth of a child:

10 litres for a boy

5 litres for a girl

At times the documents speak of 15 litres. And this was on top of the substantial regular allocations.

Apart from the awareness that a woman needed a good drink or three after giving birth, the Persians had scientifically verified that beer or wine is helpful in milk production.

In one of the driest regions of the world, in the Eyre Basin, one may come across the following welcome upon entering the pub:

Not a bad communist slogan.

The place?

For some reason, it’s almost impossible to avoid the temptation to set off walking in Oberlausitz. In the end it matters little whether the sun is shining,

Or snow is falling.

At first it was perhaps 10 km per day, passing through dark and ancient forests:

Over moss-covered pathways:

Or by tribal gathering places:

And then the hikes lengthened, to 12, 15 and 20 kms a day. We glimpsed cottages as we passed:

Or across ploughed fields:

We pondered what vivid dreams might be conjured by the fungi:

And admired the strength of German bridges:

We were puzzled by shrines to the local gods found by the wayside:

Or the patterns of shadow on a forest floor:

But over the last few kilometres the path always seems endless:

Until at last one may rest tired feet and taste that heavenly German drink:

Is this the real reason why Russia deviated temporarily onto the capitalist path in 1991?

(Voice: What about icons; there’s a demand for icons). As for icons, someone has just given a reminder that the peasants are asking for icons. I think that we should not follow the example of the capitalist countries and put vodka and other intoxicants on the market, because, profitable though they are, they will lead us back to capitalism and not forward to communism; but there is no such danger in pomade (laughter).

Lenin, Collected Works, volume 32, p. 426.

I am in the midst of proof corrections for Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels and Theology, a hefty tome which is due out in March with Brill and later with Haymarket. So in yet another moment of shameless self-promotion, a section of the preface:

I have put off writing this book for too long, daunted by the endless volumes of Marx’s and Engels’s writings. At long last I opened the first volume of their collected works. Over the next eight months I read the whole lot, instead of the select pieces I had read until then, finishing the last volume on the evening before boarding a freighter-ship bound for New Zealand in June 2008. Vast, tiring and exhilarating, it was one of the great reading experiences I have ever had.

From the nooks and crannies of their youth, with bad poetry, love-letters, angry and worried parents, the story unwound in volume after volume. Marx soon showed up as an obsessive and brilliant writer who cared nothing for his health, even when there was a long history of unstable health on his side of the family. Engels, by contrast, obviously knew how to enjoy himself and unwind: good beer, fine wine, exquisite tobacco and women, mixed in with long-distance hiking and a love for swimming. We follow them through the obstacle course of early political journalism in the face of censorship, arrests and exile in Paris, Brussels and then London. I found myself enticed by Engels’s background, one that was so similar to my own, as well as his remarkable ability with languages (I have come across French, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Frisian, Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Devanagari or Sanskrit, as well as classical Hebrew and Greek). While Engels passed through his hawkish phase and wrote some amazing pieces on battles, campaigns, and the histories of matters such as infantry, rifles and castles, Marx buried himself in piles of economic data and wrote endless notebooks working out his breakthrough-theories. As Marx peaked and burned himself out with the monumental first volume of Capital, Engels kept the whole show together, maintaining his partnership in the firm in Manchester, sending Marx endless pound notes in the post, until at last he could retire and set up both Marx and himself in relative comfort. The formality of intellectual work and the immediacy of journalism finally make way for the intensely personal correspondence. Here, Marx’s obsession with his declining health – especially the interminable reports on those famous carbuncles – shows up starkly (if before he disregarded his health now it is at the centre of his attention), as does Engels’s patience and irrepressibly jovial take on life. And this is how the story closes, with Engels dutifully ensuring Marx’s legacy through a mountain of editorial work on Marx’s unfinished manuscripts (not always understanding them) and yet utterly enthused by the strides taken by the working-class and socialist movement.

When I began writing, I became conscious of the fact that Marx and Engels too were primarily writers. I started to gain respect for Engels as a writer. At times, he may have been too categorical and doctrinaire, not quite shining as bright as Marx, but, at other times, his texts sparkle with insight and observation. Unlike Marx’s intense and obsessive prose, Engels could have a lightness of touch and way of turning a phrase that draws one in. I have read his accounts of the walk from Paris to Berne in Switzerland many times, the travel notes on Sweden and Denmark, his glorious description of the cotton-bale that passes through so many handlers and merchants (swindlers) before reaching Germany, or his letters full of comments on smoking, drinking and women, or indeed his continuous doodles, portraits and battle scenes. Only Engels could write, ‘… now I can shit in peace and then write to you in peace. … Damn, there’s somebody sitting in the lavatory and I am bursting’.[1] No wonder he lived to a good age. His motto, written in young Jenny’s notebook would have helped: ‘Your favourite virtue – jollity; Motto – take it easy’.[2]

Often, Engels had to remind Marx to get some fresh air and exercise instead of sitting on a broken chair at a worn desk in order to write. For Marx was driven by a demanding muse, one that allowed him three or four hours sleep a night, rushed breaks for meals and those endless cups of coffee and reams of tobacco. There are plenty of notes in the letters about working all night, or for thirty hours straight until his eyes were too sore to go further, or Jenny taking over letter-writing since he had dropped from sheer exhaustion. No wonder he became so ill – liver, carbuncles, sores, abscesses, rheumatism, lungs (the letters are full of them) – and no wonder he recovered when on the sea at Margate where he ate well, went for long walks (up to 27 kilometres to Canterbury), swam everyday and slept. He was already sick from overwork in his 30s, was alternating between periods of enforced rest and frenetic writing in his 40s, was spent after Capital appeared at the age of 49, and he could not write anything substantial after that. He was lucky to get to 65.

The image Marx’s father, Heinrich, had of his son in Berlin pretty much sums up the way Marx wrote: ‘God’s grief!!! Disorderliness, musty excursions into all departments of knowledge, musty brooding under a gloomy oil-lamp; running wild in a scholar’s dressing-gown and with unkempt hair instead of running wild over a glass of beer’.[3] Or, in Marx’s own words:

The writer does not look at all on his work as a means. It is an end in itself; it is so little a means for him himself and for others that, if need be, he sacrifices his existence to its existence. He is, in another way, like the preacher of religion who adopts the principle: ‘Obey God rather than man’.[4]

The result was that Marx’s texts are often rushed, dense, endless and written in that atrocious hand. Yet he could also rise from that tangle and produce extraordinarily brilliant stretches of text, such as the Eighteenth Brumaire and The Civil War in France, but it came less naturally to him. I find myself caught in between, preferring Engels as a writer over against Marx, but then taken up with Marx’s sheer originality. And I must confess that I too often succumb to that demanding muse.

[1] Engels 1839ff, p. 411; Engels 1839gg, p. 354.

[2] Engels 1868k, p. 541.

[3] Marx (Heinrich) 1837, p. 688.

[4] Marx 1842i, p. 175.

After the 1905 revolution, the tsar granted limited freedom of assembly, speech and the press. So Lenin, knowing full well the advantages of this new situation for socialist organisation, proposes the following:

It is high time, furthermore, to take steps to establish local economic strong points, so to speak, for the workers’ Social-Democratic organisations – in the form of restaurants, tea-rooms, beer-halls, libraries, reading-rooms, shooting galleries, etc., etc., maintained by Party members (Collected Works 10, p. 35).

Makes you want to ask where the socialist restaurants, tea-rooms, beer-halls are today. Are we missing something? Of course, shooting galleries had another purpose, as he points out in a footnote:

I do not know the Russian equivalent of tir [French], by which I mean a place for target practice, where there is a supply of all kinds of fire-arms and where anyone may for a small fee practise shooting at a target with a revolver or rifle. Freedom of assembly and association has been proclaimed in Russia. Citizens have the right to assemble and to learn bow to shoot; this can present no danger to anyone. In any big European city you will find such shooting galleries open to all, situated in basements, sometimes outside the city, etc. And it is very far from useless for the workers to learn how to shoot and how to handle arms.

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